Challenges Facing Primary E-Waste Recyclers

By ,

by Ronald Lepore
A former RQO auditor, Ronald has been instrumental in the development of multi-site Canadian electronics recycling operations, including shredding and manual teardown. He has years of experience implementing R2/RIOS, ISO 14001, ISO 9001 and OHSAS 18001 standards.

If you are an electronics recycler and you come across a genie, there is a high probability that you would ask for a turnkey equipment for your facility. There are a few suppliers who claim to provide such a solution but it is hardly ever so in reality.

As a past executive at a Canadian multi-site e-waste organization, one of my biggest challenges was integrating the various equipment to avoid bottlenecks. For example, if the shredder is operating at (x)mt/hr and conveyors and other downstream equipment on the line at (y), it will certainly lead to a bottleneck.

Certain equipment operate well in isolation but pose significant health & safety risks, especially fire risk, when applied to the line. I will share with you one big lesson learnt from my experience managing a primary shredding facility.


Case Study: Challenges of Changing Equipment


The chain shredder

We were using a chain shredder to separate the metal in the material before passing on the rest to the optical sorting machine. A chain shredder is like old washing machine with chains protruding from a central axis that break the material when the two collide.

Inside view of a chain shredder

Inside view of a chain shredder


Material being fed into a chain shredder



The issues with the chain shredder

We were facing many issues with this equipment:

  1. Because it had a maximum capacity, the shredder was a bottleneck.
  2. It was not shredding the material as dense as we wanted. The 40-yard metal containers to recuperate ferrous metals were filling up quickly because of the large size of processed material and thus not maximizing metal delivery in terms of weight/container to our clients.
  3. Cross contamination with non-steel products was further decreasing our revenue per ton.
  4. Cables and harnesses were wounding around the unit like spaghetti.
  5. Large photo copiers and desktop computers were damaging the inside of the unit, compromising its efficiency. We therefore needed a robust preventive maintenance program but due to capacity issues, there was no time for one. Preventive maintenance and a robust lock-out-tag-out program are a must under R2 and E-waste recycling program audits.
  6. Because of the wear and tear and damaged parts we were experiencing unplanned downtime, which lasted more than 48 hrs or sometimes more depending on the availability of spare parts in Germany.


Replacing the chain shredder with a 4-shaft equipment

Because of these issues we decided to change our chain shredder for a superior 4-shaft shredding machine. We complimented the change by adding another new equipment to compact the metal in the containers and increase our revenue per ton from our metal buyers.

4-shaft machine

4-shaft machine


The failure

The idea was excellent except that it compromised the safety of our workers by significantly increasing the risk of fire. We had to re-tool the entire facility!

It was not easy adding new equipment:

  • They all had to be operated by PLCs. The logic programming had to ensure that the entire line was communicating. We had to hire an in-house programmer, available 24/7, to support the line.
  • Then there were compliance requirements for the new equipment that we needed to address. In hindsight the risk of heat and fire despite heat-resistant conveyors should have been obvious.


Best Practices When Changing Equipment


Keep in mind that changing equipment most likely would require you to:

  1. modify your Certificate of Authorization from the government due to possible impacts on the environment.
  2. increase ventilation within the facility as well as the dust collector capacity. The dust collector filters must be treated as hazardous material. You should have a procedure in place for their replacement and disposition to an approved downstream supplier. They should also have explosion panels, in case of a fire or explosion. Trust me there will be a time where you are thankful to have fire suppressant equipment in place.
  3. update your significant aspects risk matrix. For ISO14001:2015 audits, auditors look for risk assessment from the executives of the organization to know whether they have evaluated the various risks (fire, closure, lack of available downstream suppliers, inventory levels of hazardous materials.. etc…)


 Investment in Facility Square Footage will Payoff


As a primary shredding facility, it is important that you strive for the largest footprint in terms of square footage as possible in order to get the most capacity and throughput.

Throughput comes into play when integrating the various equipment to balance the line. The larger the facility the better you are able to stage the material for processing. The extra square footage will enable you to track the material, when it is received, processed and sent out. The tracking of material as well as mass balance of processed material is paramount to our industry under the requirements imposed upon us by our certified programs.

I hope I have given you some insight from an e-waste recycler’s perspective.  I will share more information on my upcoming webinar with Nimonik on the various challenges that you face and some best practices.

Ronald Lepore
A former RQO auditor, Ronald has been instrumental in the development of multi-site Canadian electronics recycling operations, including shredding and manual teardown. He has years of experience implementing R2/RIOS, ISO 14001, ISO 9001 and OHSAS 18001 Standards.